History of the Giant Panda

Posted on 08 June 2004

A brief history on the Giant Panda, and how it came to be where it is today
History of the Giant Panda
11 March 1869 A hunter brings a panda skin to the French Jesuit, Armand David
13 April 1929 The Roosevelt brothers become the first foreigners to shoot a panda
1936 Ruth Harkness captures an infant panda and takes it to the USA, evoking universal sympathy for the plight of the panda and creating the ‘panda cult’
1936-46 14 pandas are taken from China by foreigners
1946 China closes its doors to panda exploitation by foreigners
1957-83 A total of 24 pandas are given to foreign countries as goodwill gestures
Early 1960s The first four panda reserves are established and a nature decree is issued prohibiting the hunting of a list of animals, including the panda
1970s Additional panda reserves are established
1970s DNA analysis reveals that the panda is a member of the bear family
mid-1970s A number of pandas in the northern part of their range are thought to be starving after a mass flowering and subsequent die-off of bamboo, as happens periodically

1974-1977 Ministry of Forestry of China carried out a census, which estimated that only around 2,459 pandas are still living in the wild, alerting the government to the precarious position of the species
1978 The Chinese government initiates a panda study, building a field camp on a steep forested slope in the Wolong Reserve
1979 WWF International’s chairman signs a unique agreement in Beijing for conservation cooperation with China. The highlight of the agreement is a six-member WWF-China committee, established to coordinate links between conservation organisations and authorities in China and WWF’s worldwide conservation network. A number of high-priority projects in China are agreed upon, the first of which is the conservation of the panda
1980 Dr George Schaller is invited by WWF and the Chinese government to study the panda, making him the first Western scientist to be entrusted with leading WWF work in China. WWF also becomes the first international conservation organisation to begin fieldwork in China
1980s Further panda nature reserves are established. However, the reserves are considered to be mere shells, unable to provide adequate protection to the panda
15 May 1980 The first WWF observation of a panda’s presence in the wild occurs
December 1980 Dr Schaller makes breakthroughs in the study of panda ecology and behaviour, forming the basis of giant panda knowledge for years to come
1980s A massive unnecessary panda rescue campaign takes place following bamboo flowering
1983 A wildlife protection law is published, increasing the protection status of the panda
1983-87 More than 30 panda cubs are taken from the wild into captivity in the belief that the cubs had been abandoned. In fact, the cubs had not been abandoned as mothers often leave their cubs for up to 50 hours to go foraging
1984 The Chinese government decides that the panda is a lucrative commodity and begins to loan pandas to zoos with fees of up to US$1 million per year
1984 The panda is transferred from Appendix III to Appendix I of CITES, meaning that the trade in pandas or its products is subject to strict regulation by the ratifying parties and trade for primarily commercial purposes is banned
1984-5 GIS surveys and analysis reveal that the area of habitat occupied by pandas has reduced from over 29,500km2 to just 13,000km2 since 1975

1985 Wolong’s Giant Panda was published - co-authored by Hu Jinchu and George B. Schaller, two of the leading experts at the research base in Wolong. The book summarized research results on wild giant pandas and sparked global interest in the species
1985-1988  Ministry of Forestry (now the State Forestry Administration) worked with WWF to conduct the second survey of giant panda’s population and living conditions around the country. The survey results were released in 1988, showing that the population of wild giant panda was just 1114 in China.
1988 Chinese officials recover the pelts of 146 pandas in Sichuan Province and investigate 115 cases of illegal dealing in panda furs
1989 WWF-funded research and satellite imagery show that suitable habitat for pandas in the Sichuan Province has shrunk to 50 percent of its size in 1974

1989 Ministry of Forestry and WWF jointly propose a Management Plan for China’s Giant Panda and the Protection of its Habitat. The plan called for a number of measures, including reducing human activities in giant panda’s habitats, adjusting forest operations, and regulating illegal hunting, which laid a foundation for future management of giant panda conservation
1990s Zoos outside China continue to pay significant fees for panda loans because of the pandas’ popularity with zoo-goers
1990s International conservation communities criticise the loaning of pandas for commercial purposes, emphasising the negative impact this procedure could have on wild populations exploited for the zoo trade
1991 Experts meet to consider the possibilities of panda reintroductions into the wild
1992 A WWF patrol in the Wolong Nature Reserve discover more than 70 snares in the hillside at the core of the reserve
1992 A management plan for the panda is launched following a decade of cooperation between WWF and the Chinese Ministry of Forestry. The plan is entitled China Giant Panda and its Habitat Protection Project (CGPHP) and calls for the establishment of an additional 14 nature reserves, tangible improvements in the 13 existing reserves and the creation of 15 migratory corridors to enable increased interaction between isolated panda populations. Upon completion of the plan, 60 percent of all panda habitat will be included within protected areas
1993 The State Council approves the National Panda Programme, committing US$5 million to support panda conservation
1989-95 WWF supports a range of panda conservation work, including training courses; the provision of equipment for rangers, wardens, and scientists; veterinary work in Wolong Captive Breeding Centre; and biomonthly monitoring in the Wuyipeng Area of Wolong
1995 A Chinese farmer is sentenced to life imprisonment for shooting a panda
1996 Death sentences are imposed on two men caught at the Chinese border with panda and golden monkey pelts
1996 WWF is invited by the Ministry of Forestry to support the Wanglang Reserve in the Pingwu County. Subsequent research shows that commercial logging, supplying 60 percent of the country’s revenue, is destroying panda habitat at an alarming rate

1997 WWF launched the Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) in Pingwu County, Sichuan Province. The project aimed to improve the management capacity of nature reserves in Wuping County, like Wanglang, and develop alternative livelihoods for surrounding communities. It was the first integrated conservation and sustainable development project in areas that are home to giant pandas
1997 WWF, together with the Chinese government, launches an Integrated Conservation and Development Project in Pingwu to address the conflicting needs of the pandas and the people
1997 The penalty for poachers in China is changed from the death sentence to a 20-year prison sentence
1997 Experts reconvene in Wolong Nature Reserve to discuss the feasibility of reintroducing pandas into the wild, concluding that "the release of the giant panda is not recommended at this time. … The most important activities to promote panda conservation are habitat conservation and research into wild panda populations and habitats"
1997 An effort to clone the panda is initiated by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences
1997 Wanglang Nature Reserve becomes the first panda reserve supported by WWF to apply systematic panda monitoring, leading to detailed documentation of where pandas occur. Systematic patrolling uncovers several poaching incidents and helps to curb illegal trade
The Chinese government bans logging of natural forests in the southwest of the country, which indicated that the commercial logging in all the panda habitat were banned
1998 A Chinese farmer is sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for killing three pandas
After WWF brings a lawsuit over the panda loan process, the US Fish and Wildlife Service creates a policy requiring U.S. zoos importing giant pandas to ensure that more than half of the funds associated with a panda loan must be channelled into the conservation of wild pandas and their habitat
WWF trains more than 300 panda reserve staff and local government officials in Pingwu in nature reserve management, monitoring, conducting anti-poaching patrols and pioneering community-based conservation approaches
17 new reserves are gazetted by the Chinese government
1998 Sichuan Forestry Department, with the support from WWF, initiated the biodiversity monitoring in 11 panda reserves in the Minshan mountain range.
Jan-Apr 1999 Six panda pelts are confiscated by Chinese police

1999 – 2003  Ministry of Forestry and WWF jointly carried out the Third National Survey on Giant Panda in China. Compared with the previous two surveys, the third survey collected more complete and detailed data of the giant panda’s range, which was an important reference for giant panda conservation work in the following ten years.
1999 The third national panda survey begins across the entire panda range, including six mountain ranges. WWF provided technical and financial support to the survey. 1999 A pilot panda survey in Qingchuan County, Sichuan, shows that the current distribution of pandas has shrunk from 367km2 in 1987 to 253km2
1999 Studies show that a total of 467 pandas have been kept in captivity since 1936
November 1999
Records from the Panda Studbook reveal that only 66 adult pandas (28 percent) in captivity are breeding and only 12 have been born in captivity. Of all captive-born males, only two are reported to have ever mated and only 12 percent of captive-born pandas survive to one year

2001 WWF started conservation and development projects mainly focused on the giant panda and its habitat in the Qinling Mountains, the northernmost part of the species' existing range. WWF worked with the Department of Forestry of Shaanxi Province to gradually establish a giant panda and habitat protection network, covering over 70% of giant panda habitat in the Qinling Mountains
2001 The biodiversity monitoring work in the giant panda reserves were initiated by WWF in the Qinling Mountain range, the northernmost panda distribution area
Early 2002
An agreement is signed between WWF and the Shaanxi Forestry Department to establish 13 new reserves and create the first habitat corridors in the Qinling mountains. The project aims to reconnect the fragmented giant panda populations in this mountain range.

2002 WWF began the Forest Landscape-based Conservation Project in the Minshan Mountains, based on the lessons from the Pingwu Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) and mainly working on giant panda habitat and regional ecosystem protection.
2002 With the support of WWF, the Conservation Newsletter of Giant Panda Reserves in Sichuan Province was created and has became an effective platform for information exchange among giant panda reserves in the province.
2002 The Chinese government announces a new Wildlife and Protected Areas Programme that will invest £10 million over the next 10 years in 15 flagship species, including the giant panda. Eighteen new panda reserves will be created under this programme. 
April 2003 Facilitated by WWF’s Qinling Project, the Shaanxi Provincial Government officially sanctioned five new panda reserves and five ecological corridors for the giant panda, increasing protected area for the giant pandas in Qinling by over 150,000 ha. WWF recognized this exciting initative as a major "Gift to the Earth.".
2003 Regular biodiversity monitoring work has been carried out in all the 17 giant panda reserves in the Minshan mountain range.
June 2004 The result of the Third National Survey on the Giant Panda and its habitat released by the State Council of China, showing there were 1596 giant pandas in the wild.

2006 Mount Minshan was listed as the 103th Gift to Earth. Minshan Mountains cross Sichuan and Gansu Provinces, and both provincial governments promised to collaborate in further in enhancing the management and protection of giant panda habitat.
2007 WWF launched the Green Heart of China Project, which expanded the integrated conservation and development project in the Qinling Mountains and Mount Minshan to the entire giant panda range. Then WWF began landscape-based protection work in six mountain areas, which resembled a beating heart on the map of China.
2009 With the support of WWF, the national Technical Specification for Giant Panda and its Habitat Monitoring was released by the State Forestry Administration, setting technical standards for future monitoring work and survey.s
2010 – 2014 The State Forestry Administration conducted the Fourth National Giant Panda Survey. WWF participated in the preparation work for the survey in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu Province, as well as supporting the development of the survey plan and periodical evaluations.
2015 The State Forestry Administration released the results of the Fourth National Giant Panda Survey, showing that the population of wild giant pandas had increased by 268 to 1864 over the last decade.
2015 The 2015-2025 Giant Panda Protection Strategy was announced. It targets the giant panda as a flagship species and involves comprehensive and landscaped-based protection for giant panda habitats.
Giant panda Ailuropoda melanoleuca Panda mother and cub, eating bamboo. Painting by Wu Tso-Jen, Chairman of the Association of Painters in China and Head of China's Academy of Art.
© WWF / WWF Intl./ Wu Tso-Jen
Sir Peter Scott visiting a Giant Panda in the Beijing zoo.
© WWF / WWF Intl.